Unveiling Tales of Kenzera: ZAU – Abubakar Salim’s Emotional Journey into Game Development

Abubakar Salim, best known for his captivating performances as Bayek in Assassin’s Creed Origins and in Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves, has recently announced his venture into the world of game development. Salim, under his media company Surgent Studios, has been developing an action-adventure platformer called Tales of Kenzera: ZAU. The game captures a young hero’s emotional journey through grief and loss, infused with a vibrant world inspired by Bantu mythology. Salim’s personal experiences with grief after losing his father shaped the narrative of the game, offering players an opportunity to navigate the depths of sorrow and heal the spirit of the protagonist, Zau.

Deeply driven by the desire to share his personal journey and experiences with grief, Salim conceived the idea for Tales of Kenzera. Recognizing the power of storytelling, Salim believed that the interactive medium of video games provided the perfect platform to convey emotions and engage players on a profound level. With the support and encouragement of industry friends, such as Josef Fares from Hazelight Studios, the game was pitched to EA and subsequently signed under the EA Originals label. This marked the turning point for Salim, a moment where his vision became real and simultaneously terrifying.

A Love for Storytelling

At the core of Salim’s creative process lies a deep love for storytelling, instilled in him by his father. As an actor, he has always championed the power of stories to evoke emotions and create connections. This passion extended into his foray into game development as he sought to create a game that would emotionally resonate with players and honor his father’s memory. Tales of Kenzera isn’t meant to be a heavy and sorrowful experience exclusively for those experiencing grief. Instead, it aims to evoke both the brightest memories and the darkest depths of loss, ultimately celebrating the love shared with a lost loved one.

The Celebration of Bantu Mythology

One of the significant influences on the lore of Tales of Kenzera is Bantu mythology. Salim, having been exposed to stories of his father’s lineage as a traditional healer, found inspiration in the rich and vibrant tales. Filming Raised by Wolves in South Africa further immersed Salim in diverse cultures and mythologies, prompting him to explore Bantu mythology as a perspective for the game. Rather than attempting to educate players, Salim embraced Bantu mythology as a playground for creativity and storytelling.

Choosing the medium of video games over film was a conscious decision for Salim. He recognized that games have a unique ability to involve players on a deeper, more personal level. The game’s Metroidvania structure mirrors the journey of grief itself, where players are dropped into the unknown, gradually discovering tools and abilities to navigate the emotional landscape. Salim pays homage to his shared experiences with his father, reminiscing about playing side-scrolling games together. Through Tales of Kenzera, he aims to explore grief while challenging traditional narratives surrounding loss and emphasizing that grief is complex, unpredictable, and not solely characterized by sadness.

The Importance of Honesty

To capture the essence of grief authentically, Surgent Studios prioritizes honesty throughout the development of Tales of Kenzera. Salim emphasizes the team’s commitment to being truthful and transparent, ensuring that the story remains honest to the experiences of everyone involved. The game is a collective effort to convey a greater human truth and evoke genuine emotions from players. Salim’s vulnerability in sharing his personal stories seamlessly blends with the game’s narrative, creating an authentic and engaging experience that goes beyond mere catharsis.

As Salim prepares to unveil Tales of Kenzera: ZAU at The Game Awards 2023, he reflects on the journey he has embarked upon. The process of bridging the gap between his creative vision and the development of a fully realized game has been surreal for Salim. Still processing the magnitude of this endeavor, he eagerly looks forward to sharing his emotional journey and the vibrant, action-packed world of Kenzera with players around the world.

Abubakar Salim’s foray into game development with Tales of Kenzera: ZAU represents a deeply personal and emotional journey. Grounded in his experiences with grief and inspired by Bantu mythology, Salim aims to create an authentic and resonant experience for players. Through his commitment to honesty, storytelling, and the power of video games as an interactive medium, Salim invites players to navigate the complex depths of grief and find healing in the spirit of Zau. As the world eagerly awaits the release of Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, Salim’s unique and heartfelt approach to game development promises an immersive and emotionally charged experience like no other.


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